It was the only plane who never made it back...
For the people of Moss in Norway that alone appears to have meant something to them. And it might seem strange to us Brits but for an occupied country seeking its freedom returned, the appearance of the Royal Air Force signalled a fight, the possibility of liberation. And the people who flew those planes over strange lands were heroes.
PB134 was a Lancaster bomber; one of a group sent on an operation to take out two large German cruisers hiding out in a Norwegian fjord. On board PB134 was a crew of eight men - a diverse group from all parts of the wider world. They perhaps represented more than most the willingness of people to fight for something more than themselves.
Flying out of RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, Squadron 83 headed out over water for the Norwegian coastline. It was New Year's Eve 1944; D-Day had come and gone but the fight still remained against a Nazi war machine that refused to die. As the hours ticked by into 1945, in what would be the final year of the Second World War, attempts to destroy the Emden and the Koln were met with little success; the crews turned to head home. All save one. PB134 was hit by a German night fighter; she came down heavy into the cold waters of the fjordland and sank.
The men on board that night sank with her - the only Lancaster not to make it home. The eight men of the crew of PB134 lost their life on New Year's Day 1945, the 1st of January 1945. Their names live long.
21 year old Flight Sergeant Samuel Brockbank from Belfast - Navigator
23 year old Flight Officer Gordon William Duggan from Victoria, Australia - Pilot
33 year old married Flight Sergeant George Jabez Arthur Groom from Surrey - Flight Engineer
32 year old husband and father Flight Sergeant Henry Jones from Liverpool - Air Gunner
19 year old Flight Sergeant Herbert Thomas Little from Paddington, London - Air Gunner
22 year old married Flight Sergeant Sidney James Samuel Maynard from Romford, Essex - Navigator
31 year old Wireless Operator Francis John Poole from Weston-Super-Mare
23 year old Flight Sergeant Ronald Kear from Newport, Wales
The news trickled homeward to the families of these RAF boys that they would never return from their operation to Norway - 'missing over Norway' was the message that they were told. No body to bury. No place to say goodbye. A name on a memorial in time. But for them, the end of the war. An end to their boy's war.
But back in the small place of Moss in Norway, the waters revealed one of the fallen. The body of Flight Sergeant Sidney Maynard was discovered. Under Nazi occupation, his remains were ordered buried with no fuss or attention. Under hostility, the locals fought for a proper end to this young man. And when the war reached its end and Norway reclaimed its freedom, the local Norwegian people placed a grave marker to this lonely airman; knowing full well that his comrades remained lying in the fjord just beyond. For that grave marker represented both - the man and the bomber; the crew and their efforts.
The people of Moss never forgot it seems - PB134 or their crew. The only one never to return. And every Norwegian National Day, a wreath is laid at the grave of the man in Moss Civil Cemetery, Sidney Maynard - the boy from Romford. A commemoration of their service for something more.
It seems to me a privilege to learn of this - a story of personal loss and sacrifice - the impact of service. I must return to one man on that plan. Ronald Kear. For were it not for him or the memory of him that this would never have appeared here. For in the grounds of Christchurch Cemetery in Newport, is his final goodbye. A Wars Last Goodbye to a son who never did come home from that operation to Norway.
Also Flight Sgt Ronald Kear
Beloved youngest son of the above
Presumed killed Norway Jan 1 1945
Aged 23 years
'The path of duty, the way to glory'
His name may appear on the memorial at Runnymede in Surrey but for his family, his last goodbye was closer to home. In Newport on a family grave.
But I have to wonder whether the Kear family ever knew that in some small part of Norway, his name and that of his crew mates were remembered far beyond that New Year's Day 1945. That PB134 has become part of that small Norwegian place. A part of Norwegian history. All but for one Lancaster bomber that just never came home.
I commend the crew of PB134. Here's to you lads. And to Moss in Norway, I'm sure that many would be touched by your actions - honour lies with you all.
To those interested, Wars Last Goodbyes pays a tribute to this man Ronald Kear here:
If you're interested in other Wars Last Goodbyes from Newport Christchurch Cemetery: